Amy was thirteen, and had been thirteen for a very long time. The train car she sat in was an overnighter, meant for people who couldn’t afford a sleeper car. The night dimmed the windows to opacity, so Amy used the glass as a mirror to watch the compartment door open. A nicely-dressed man and three children hustled in, chattering before they even got the door open. There was a teenage girl, a boy with glasses who looked a few years younger, and a little red-faced boy in a sailor suit who immediately set to kicking the seat opposite his.
“Jack,” said the man without much heat or conviction, “stop that.”
The boy made no such motion. The family immediately spread out, capturing so much of the seating Amy was forced to press against the window. Her breath didn’t steam the glass.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t get a sleeper,” said the girl, tossing her hair. It was quite voluminous and chased with ribbons so that it looked almost like a cake.
“Amelia, dear, I have explained this,” said the father, not looking up from his papers, “we will be in at your grandmother’s stop within a few hours. It would be a waste of money.”
“But we have to share compartments with any dirty old stranger!”
Not once did any of them look over at Amy. The little boy bored with kicking the seat and began bumping the makeshift desk his father held on his lap with his knees.
“Jack, stop that,” said the man, pulling away. Jack turned his heels up to his sister Amelia, who gave him a withering glare.
“Father,” said the glasses-wearing boy, “Amelia’s right, to a certain degree. These compartments are made to fit four comfortably. By rights we shouldn’t have to share.”
“I suppose you’re right, Thomas.” The father turned to Amy, not looking at her but in a direction that happened to hold her. “Would you mind getting out, terribly? We’re all very tired.”
Amy looked the group over once. “Yes, I see.”
The older boy slammed the door behind her with a loud snap. Amy stepped slightly to the side and leaned her back against the wall, listening.
“Well I don’t see why I have to mind the smelly little beast, he’s old enough to—”
“Amelia, please stop arguing with me. If you don’t learn now what will you do when you have children?”
“I’ll have nannies and maids to look after them. Really, daddy. You think I’m as malleable as that silly girl who trespassed in our car. Dirty little thing. She’s probably one of those war orphans.”
“Now Amelia, children can’t help how they appear. It’s the fault of the parents, most of the time.”
“So who can we blame that hair on, eh Ames?”
“Shut up, Thomas.”
Amy crept off. Not to another compartment, but to a quiet place where she could conceal herself. She had boarded without a ticket or bags, because she was not traveling but looking. And the family had looked quite promising.
11:30. The little boy Jack had escaped the compartment, or been allowed to escape to give his father some measure of peace. He throttled the external door like a pet bird’s neck, kicking the bottom panel with his heels. Amy watched the scenery pass by indifferently, gauging their speed. They were on a flat plain. Soon there would be a hill.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” she asked.
The boy jumped, then his face turned mean when he saw she wasn’t an adult. He sneered at her and resumed kicking at the door. Amy watched the restraining bolt as it rattled in its hinge. Too much force would make it vibrate free.
“I don’t believe that’s safe.”
“I don’t believe that’s safe,” the boy repeated back in a mocking tone. He reared back and gave a mighty kick, edging the bolt a millimeter. Amy could feel as the train slowed, starting up an incline.
“Are you traveling on holiday? Perhaps we’re going the same way.”
The boy kicked faster, eyes gleaming from his red face like bits of bottle glass. The bolt did not move.
“Does your sister have any friends where she’s going? Perhaps we could become acquainted.”
At mention of his sister, the boy doubled his force. Amy could feel their assent slowing. Soon they would be at the peak. The bolt was only halfway loose.
“Shall I tell your father you’re here?”
“Shall I tell your father you’re here?” Kick. Throttle. Kick. The train was beginning to pick up speed.
“I only worry, because you’ve been left unsupervised.”
“Stupid girl.” Kick. Throttle. The train slipped faster down the incline.
“Something terrible could happen to a small child left alone.”
“Ugly girl.” Kick. Throttle. They were nearing the end of the slope, hitting the pinnacle of the train’s speed.
“I don’t believe this door is safe at all,’ Amy said, letting her eyes flick to the bolt. Jack followed her gaze and crowed in triumph. He yanked the bolt back and gave a final kick. The door bowed open from the force of the kick and Jack went with it, disappearing into the rushing night air. As the door bounced back, Amy caught it and latched it securely again.
12am. On her way down the hall, Amy ran into the older boy, Thomas, waiting in her path with a smug expression.
“Are you lost?” he asked.
“Not particularly,” Amy said. Thomas tapped the thin book in his hands.
“I’ve been reading the train regulations. Father says I’m to take over his business one day, so I read everything I get my hands on.”
“How nice for you,” Amy said.
“It says that those without fare can be charged with up to five years in debtor’s prison.” Thomas tapped the book again. “Tell me, do you have train fare?”
Amy slowly looked him up and down.
“I read all sorts of books,” Thomas bragged, having departed the real world for his own head, “read one recently that revealed the poorer classes have no choice but to continue to be poor. Bad breeding, you see. I’m sure you can’t help your lowbrow criminal behavior, but it is my duty as a paragon of good breeding to correct you. I’m going to tell the conductor and he’s going to throw you off the train. Seeing as you’re a lady, he might be tempted to go easy. But I will remind him of the rules and regulations.” Thomas tapped the book again.
Amy smiled at him, so long that he began to shift uneasily.
“Tell me,” she said suddenly, “have you ever read the riddle of the Sphinx?”
The boy colored slightly. Apparently he had skimped on the classics.
“The sphinx of greek legend sat outside a city and asked a riddle of every passer-by. If any of them got it wrong, she would tear them to pieces. Want to hear a riddle?” Amy asked sweetly.
Thomas turned slightly pale. The train ride had become bumpy, the lamps in the corridor were flickering.
Amy smiled wide and white as she leaned forward until their faces were inches apart.
“What’s black. And white. And red all over?” she whispered.
Thomas trembled. “The financial times?”
Amy laughed as the lights flickered and then went out. “No,” she said.
1 in the morning. The girl Amelia was in the lavatory, petting her own face listlessly. She gave a little scream when she turned around and found Amy standing very close behind her.
“You startled me,” she said, fanning her face.
Amy clustered in, preventing her from turning back to the mirror. “Oh dear. How sorry I must be. What’s keeping you up so late?”
Amelia donned a haughty look. “Looking for my horrid little brothers. You haven’t seen either of them?”
“Not recently” Amy said truthfully.
Amelia sighed and then daintily pushed her out of the way. “Then you’re of no use to me.”
The girl stopped part-way down the hall. Amy had shut the lavatory door, so the car was lit only by what little light bled from outside.
“Do you know my name is Amy? It’s quite like yours, isn’t it?”
Amelia wrinkled her nose. “Amy is cheap substitute for a real name. Is it short for something?”
Amelia shook her head, which made her hair flap like a circus tent in a breeze. “A cheap name for gutter trash. I told daddy to book us a sleeper, nothing good comes from interacting with common folk.”
Amelia’s hand was on the door latch. Amy walked closer, pitching her voice so that Amelia had to lean forward to hear it.
“Your brothers are dead. They died while under your watch.”
Amelia, disturbed, took her hand off the latch. As Amy drew closer, she backed away.
“There was nothing you could have done to prevent it,” Amy whispered, drawing her feet along the carpet so her steps made no sound, “but more importantly, nothing you did prevented it. You feel that your father’s money affords you a comfortable measure of safety? But that measure means nothing if it’s not enforced.”
Amy paced, slowly chasing her to the end of the car.
“You feel that if anything happened to you, it would raise a mighty furor,” Amy continued, “and you think that guards against misfortune. But it doesn’t. Collaring the burglar does not fill the safe back up. Damming the river does not un-drown the flooded. An ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of cure, wouldn’t you agree Ames?”
Amelia’s back hit the connecting door. She pressed her lips together so they turned white.
“Daddy,” she whispered, barely loud enough that Amy heard her over the train.
“He’s not here,” Amy said, petting her head like one would a dog, “but I am.”
2 and a bit. Amy closed the compartment door snugly behind her. The man(she never had gotten his name, had she?) dozed in the corner. Amy shook his arm, looking deeply into his eyes as he woke.
“Your children are dead,” she said.
“Yes, I see,” he said back.
“You no longer have any reason to travel to your original destination.”
“Shall you accompany me, then? I’m getting off at the city.”
“Seems only logical,” the man said.
The passengers disembarked around five in the morning, which was still dark at this time of year. Amy stepped confidently off the train, looking like a girl who knew exactly where she was and where she was going. Still, she waited until a blank-eyed gentleman stepped off the train, linking arms with her so that it looked like he was escorting her and not the other way around.
Because Amy was thirteen, and would continue to be thirteen for the foreseeable future.